Diary of a Madman (short story)
Diary of a Madman (1835; Russian: Записки сумасшедшего, Zapiski sumasshedshevo) is a farcical short story by Nikolai Gogol. Along with The Overcoat and The Nose, Diary of a Madman is considered to be one of Gogol's greatest short stories. The tale centers on the life of a minor civil servant during the repressive era of Nicholas I. Following the format of a diary, the story shows the descent of the protagonist, Poprishchin, into insanity. Diary of a Madman, the only one of Gogol's works written in first person, follows diary-entry format.
Diary of a Madman centres on the life of Poprishchin, a low-ranking civil servant and titular counsellor who yearns to be noticed by a beautiful woman, the daughter of a senior official, with whom he has fallen in love. His diary records his gradual slide into insanity. As his madness deepens, he begins to suspect two dogs of having a love affair and believes he has discovered letters sent between them. Finally, he begins to believe himself to be the heir to the throne of Spain. When he is hauled off and maltreated in the asylum, the madman believes he is taking part in a strange coronation to the Spanish throne. Only in his madness does the lowly anti-hero attain greatness. As he said in his first sight of her, just after being a beast of a civil servant himself, “A footman opened the carriage door and out she fluttered, just like a little bird.”
The story satirizes the rampant petty officialdom of the bureaucracy in the 1830s in St Petersburg, and some have interpreted it as going beyond this to become an allegory about the political state of Russia at the time, revealing Gogol's view of the government from the standpoint of a lowly citizen. The story also portrays the average man's quest for individuality in a seemingly indifferent, urban city.
In 1963 Richard Williams began an animated version of the story, but the project was left unfinished. The narration by Kenneth Williams was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 1991. The BBC Radio 4 comedy series Three Ivans, Two Aunts and an Overcoat broadcast an adaptation of the story starring Griff Rhys Jones as Poprishchin in May 2002.
The short story has been adapted for the stage by David Holman, Geoffrey Rush and Neil Armfield for the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney, Australia, and this production has also been presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the United States and at the Quintessence Theater Group in Philadelphia PA.